It’s halftime of FC Tucson’s recent U.S. Open Cup match and I find myself standing pitchside with club President Amanda Powers. We’re chatting about her leadership in the U.S. soccer ecosystem before the conversation shifts to FC Tucson and the club’s role in the community.
“What gives this club staying power in Tucson,” I ask.
Without missing a beat, Amanda points to a group of kids kicking a ball nearby in red and black jerseys – “It’s them.”
“These kids see themselves in the players on that field and we know how important they are for the culture we’re trying to build here.”
Inside Kino North Stadium, it’s hard to miss the impact of FC Tucson’s youngest supporters.
Arrive early to a home match in Tucson and you’re sure to see the Douglass family running around the stadium. Dad Daemon is usually the one decked out in four or five pieces of FC Tucson gear, followed closely behind by his children who don jerseys and scarves of their own. Together with mom Valerie, they spend most pregames putting up their flags around the stadium and eagerly awaiting kickoff with the supporters that slowly stream through the gates.
Once kickoff arrives, it’s obvious why the family collectively won the club’s 2021 Supporter of the Year award.
Behind the goal every match, the Douglas family and a host of other supporters gather to make life hell for opposing goalkeepers. And not surprisingly, the loudest ones are most often the youngest.
“You can’t possibly be the starting goalie.”
“You stink ref!”
Or my personal favorite, “You like turtles.”
Lighthearted or not, there’s something demoralizing about getting heckled for 45 minutes by a dozen supporters half your size. Sure, Daemon and the older supporters get their shots in too, but it’s the comments from the kids that sting the most. It’s also the youngest supporters that lead the drumline each match.
While most supporter groups focus on the most senior members and diehards, the matchday atmosphere in Tucson is largely driven by its youth.
The Cactus Pricks supporters group provides the backdrop of songs and chants, but in many ways they are training the next generation. And that next generation is what Amanda was talking about when she envisioned the future of FC Tucson.
As two new supporters said, “It’s only a matter of time before every seat is filled.”
Linette Antillon and Kyle Jefferson moved to Tucson from Seattle, and as diehard Sounders fans, they’ve experienced firsthand what it takes to grow a supporter culture. The two quickly latched on to what FC Tucson was building because of the potential they see in the region.
“The opportunity for growth for FC Tucson is massive,” they shared. “In a community like this, it only takes one or two people to make a significant difference. That’s what makes Tucson so special.”
Whether it’s Amanda and the team in the front office, the Douglas family behind the goal on matchdays, or the Cactus Pricks supporters singing from the top corner of the Kino North Stadium stands, FC Tucson has the difference-makers already in place.
So while FC Tucson won’t be breaking USL League One attendance records anytime soon, don’t sleep on this Arizona club.
What it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in character. And it’s the character of the youngest supporters that are laying the foundation for something special.